5 Learnings from 5 Years of Xerocon

8 min read

A LinkedIn connection from my past life as a Finance Director contacted me recently. She has setup her own Virtual FD business and was asking my advice about whether it was worth her buying a ticket to Xerocon in November. That discussion led me to realise that today, 24 September 2018, marks exactly 5 years since my first Xerocon. I attended Xerocon London 2013 at The Brewery near Barbican in Central London on 24 and 25 September 2013. It was a reconnaissance mission to validate the idea, and hopefully find beta testers, for what became Chaser. I'm biased of course, but I like to think the cost of my two-day ticket has proved money well spent.

At Chaser, as a Xero-integrating app, we're hugely excited to be exhibiting at our 5th Xerocon at the Excel Centre in London from 13-15 November, which as it happens kicks off exactly 50 days from today. We at Chaser will be sharing a veritable bevy of fantastic practical tips over the coming weeks to make the most of what has been dubbed the "Coachella for Accountants". To kick all of this off, I wanted to try and capture my own 5 key learnings from exactly 5 years as part of the Xero ecosystem, and Xerocon specifically as its headline event.

1) All business is personal

Or, at least, all enduringly successful business is. No-one sets out to build negative personal relationships but the me of 5 years ago would have been surprised at just how important those personal relationships are in business.

It can be easy to forget that technology doesn't live in a vacuum - it has to improve people's lives. But when you are pioneering new technology, things definitely go wrong. And the trust inherent in positive personal relationships is an essential buffer when they do. It's a bank account that you must keep paying into with your ongoing actions with your partners and customers.

It is a great source of pride to me that the early beta testers we met at Xerocon in 2013 are still among our strongest and deepest partner relationships 5 years later. I was also struck by something with the (albeit rare) system outage issue that Xero recently experienced. It was amazing to see how many Xero accounting partners took to social media to assure their clients that the issue was being addressed, and relay Xero's own updates on the issue. You don't act in that way unless you have a deep personal trust in the company and people whose actions you are effectively vouching for.

2) Abundance is the smart mentality

... for success. It's what Steven Covey describes as thinking win-win as opposed to zero-sum win-loss where any gain by someone else at your expense must be accompanied by an equal and opposite loss to you. To attend Xerocon is to witness the embodiment of abundance mentality. From the Xero team towards all attendees and exhibiting app partners, there is a sincere desire simply to share and help.

Between app partners there is a fantastic level of openness and sharing of insights into how best to build our respective businesses. It's something we have really benefited from over the last 5 years and are passionate about helping newer app partners in any way we can by sharing our own learnings.

Above all, it is the abundance mentality on display between Xero partner accounting firms that I find most striking. Instead of looking at each other as potential competitors, it's always felt more like brothers and sisters in arms. Excited, understandably somewhat nervously so, about bringing technological change to the profession. And choosing to share their insights and learnings on the understanding that, if it can help make that change successful, there will be more than enough to go around. It's noticeable to me that if I look back over the last 5 years, there is a clear correlation between the people and firms that have shared the most - on panels, in talks, or simply in informal drinks events around Xerocon - and those firms that have enjoyed the greatest growth and success.

3) Authentic passion scales

I mean this in two ways. Firstly in the sense that authentic passion can scale. Secondly in the sense that authentic passion is what you need in order to scale. In the first sense, when I attended Xerocon 2013, there were I think about 400 attendees. At Xerocon 2017 there were 2,112 attendees and in 2018 they are expecting 3,000, a nearly tenfold increase in the space of 5 years. Yet the zeal, energy and passion on the part of the Xero team, the exhibitors and the attendees remains. I'm sure it hasn't been easy and has taken a huge amount of conscious work to bring about. But my experience of 5 years in the Xero ecosystem shows that it is possible to scale the authentic passion you have for what you do as a company even in the midst of breakneck growth.

In the second sense, if I look at Xero along with the exhibiting app partners and partner accounting firms that have flourished over the last 5 years, all have such a palpable passion for what they do. In his book Good To Great, Jim Collins articulates the idea of a Hedgehog Concept as a core part of building an enduringly great company (the name deriving from the story of the hedgehog and the fox where the hedgehog continually prevails by doing his one thing brilliantly). One of the three interrelated circles of the Hedgehog Concept is a deep intrinsic passion for what the company does. The idea being that you can derive boosts from short term initiatives but only passion can ensure long run greatness. The last 5 years for me serve as practical validation of this.

4) Change doesn't happen overnight

Whenever you see change happen in life, it's very easy simply to look at the outcomes. To see that change is almost like a switch having been flicked. Reality is invariably very much the opposite. Like a city skyscraper that only emerges above the skyline in its final stages of development, change is a dogged, persistent and patient process that is only really visible after the fact.

I remember reading Grant Smith from Armstrong Watson's post about their Xero journey as a firm. And how in spite of them being fully committed to adoption, it was still a 5 year journey before they then passed a tipping point and transitioned 4,000 clients onto Xero between Xerocon's 2016 and 2017. It's been true for us at Chaser with firms democratising access to professional credit control by providing it as a virtual service to clients using us as a platform. It's really only in the last year that we've seen this truly take hold.

It's also been true for Xero. As part of a series we ran in 2016 on how to make the most out of Xerocon, I interviewed Xero's Founder Rod Drury (embedded video below). He cited Bill Gates' quote about how people massively overestimate how much can be achieved in 2 years but underestimate how much can be achieved in 10. Change requires patience and a huge amount of commitment. At the same time, the last 5 years have shown me how phenomenal results can be.

5) Dream big and commit to it fully

The worst that can happen is you're no worse off than you were before. Best case scenario can be incredible. I interviewed Gary Turner (embedded video below), Xero Co-Founder and UK MD, for the same making the most out of Xerocon series in 2016. He shared some info about the history of Xerocon. Xerocon started with just 30 people in a bar in New Zealand. But with a big dream and full commitment, it is now the huge spectacle it is today.

This has also been true of our own Chaser experience exhibiting at Xerocons. Sir Chasealot was just a speculative idea before exhibiting at our first Xerocon in 2015. Why not do a credit control knight in shining armour? We committed to it fully, setup his Twitter account, and here we are today with Sir Chasealot as a stalwart of our Xerocon presence.

The same was true with Debtor Daze our (delicious - in my view!) accounting themed craft ale we debuted at Xerocon 2017 and are excited to be bringing back for Xerocon 2018. We committed to it fully in coming up with the name and designing a whole brand and label for it. And it really seemed to capture the imagination. I've definitely learnt the power of the imagination in the last 5 years. But imagination is nothing without the committed action and conviction to bring it to life.

When Kate, my LinkedIn connection, asked me whether it was worth her buying a ticket to Xerocon 2018, I asked her what she was hoping to get out of going. She replied saying that having just setup her firm, she was looking to find out as much about the integrating Xero apps as possible so she could provide as much value to clients as possible. I replied saying that in that case I thought Xerocon would be great value for money as there are so many app partners to speak to. Looking back on my learnings from the last 5 years, I realise my response dramatically undersold the benefits!

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